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tsee (4409)

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You can find most of my Open Source Perl software in my CPAN directory [].

Journal of tsee (4409)

Thursday December 18, 2008
12:09 PM

On a similarity between C++ and Perl popularity

[ #38116 ]

Today, I read an interesting interview with Bjarne Stroustrup, the father of C++, on DevX from August of this year. It's a good read, so if you're a C++ user, you should have a look. But even if you never touched any C++ code, there's a very interesting bit of information:

On page 6, the interviewer, Danny Kalev, asks Stroustrup:

Is C++ usage really declining, as some biased analysts and journalists have been trying to convince us for years (often not without ulterior motives), or is this complete nonsense?

Does that ring a bell? The "Perl is dead" crap that's been splashing down the gutters of the interweb waste disposal system, anyone? I urge you to read the full answer. Much of it applies to Perl as well. Please note that Stroustrup doesn't simply dismiss the issue. Here's an excerpt from his reply:

[...] C++ use appears to be declining in some areas and appears to be on an upswing in other areas. [...] Most of the popular measures basically measures noise and ought to report their findings in decibel rather than "popularity." Many of the major uses are in infrastructure (telecommunications, banking, embedded systems, etc.) where programmers don't go to conferences or describe their code in public. Many of the most interesting and important C++ applications are not noticed, they are not for sale to the public as programming products, and their implementation language is never mentioned. [...]

It's a really big world "out there" and the increase in the number of users of one language does not imply the decrease in the numbers of another. [...]

One simple thing that confuses many discussions of language use/popularity is the distinction between relative and absolute measures. For example, I say that C++ use is growing when I see user population grow by 200,000 programmers from 3.1M to 3.3M. However, somebody else may claim that "C++ is dying" because it's "popularity" has dropped from 16 percent to 10 percent of the total number of users. Both claims could be simultaneously true as the number of programmers continues to grow and especially as what is considered to be programming continues to change. [...]

Most of the popularity measures seem to measure buzz/noise, which is basically counting mentions on the web. That's potentially very misleading. Ten people learning a scripting language will make much more noise than a thousand full time programmers using C++, especially if the thousand C++ programmers are working on a project crucial to a company—such programmers typically don't post and are often not allowed to. My worry is that such measures may actually measure the number of novices and thus be an indication of a worsening shortage of C++ programmers. Worse, managers and academics may incautiously take such figures seriously (as a measure of quality) and become part of a vicious circle.

I know first hand about large C++ systems that don't produce the slightest bit of publicity for the language they're implemented in. It's what I deal with every day. Dito for large Perl code bases. Stroustrup hits the nail on the head about this issue (and C++). It's exactly what I think about Perl in the same context. There may be an issue with not generating as much noise as others (not enough new blood), but it's by no means an indication of stagnation or decline. People simply use it do what they always did. People also use it to do new stuff. But they don't blather about it all day. They earn their salary and at the end of the day, they go home to their families and spend their spare time on more interesting things than blogging about their favourite new toy language*. You have to realize: This applies to easily more than 95% of all professional programmers.

* That reminds me of something... got to go.

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  • Many of the most interesting and important C++ applications are not noticed, they are not for sale to the public as programming products, and their implementation language is never mentioned.

    And he knows

    • Because it’s a universal truth of programming, applicable to any language?

    • I don't know where does he take that info from but I know about several large and interesting Perl applications written at some of my clients and nobody talks about them in public.
    • Because you can do more in C++ than write a weblog in ten minutes?

      I kid, I kid. I talked to Tom Love yesterday (co-creator of Objective-C), and he told me that the Department of Veterans Affairs has a huge system written in MUMPS []. There's a huge amount of software no one outside the company or industry ever hears about.

      • That maybe so, but it doesn't really deal with the question. However, I think the "Is language X dying" is the wrong question. Most languages never really die. Hell, look at COBOL. It'll be around after we're dead and buried I'm sure. So will C++ and Perl, for that matter.

        The right question is "Is language X thriving?". In the case of C++ the general vibe I get is that it's stagnating, continuing on in hardcore backend systems that most people never discuss as you say, but not gaining much traction in ter

        • Sales numbers tell part of the story, but they're a source of contention even within O'Reilly. They can give a good indicator of growth of interest in a subject area, but I'm skeptical about how much information we can glean about the lessening of interest in a subject area.

          You have to measure the age of a book, the total unit sales for a book across its lifetime, and the point in the life cycle of a topic. The former matters because most books have their strongest sales in the first year. After that, ph